As I write this it’s the beginning of January. My friend, Ann Baucom, a wise and gifted woman, once told me January was her favorite time of the year. She loved the opportunity to slow down and stay in because she could look at the long range view of the months in front of her and plan her life. She was very deliberate about what was important to her and what brought her peace and joy and she took the cold, dreary month of January to envision all those opportunities that she could create to nurture herself. She presented to me a very different view of the long dark month than I had previously experienced. Certainly, I had used the opportunity of a new year to make plans and to set intentions but I hadn’t really embraced sitting with my dreams for the upcoming year and appreciated the month as a time of gestation for those dreams to grow.
I love to rise before the sun. In Clyde Edgerton’s book Walking Across Egypt he writes about how Matti Rigsbee rises before dawn and sits outside as the blackness becomes gray and then light. He describes how this is her favorite time of day. She relishes the new day and awaits the gifts it will bring with it. It’s one of my favorite passages. I could feel her peace and joy as she waited for the light of day to seep through the darkness and wash away the night. I once had the opportunity to go to one of Clyde’s readings and was delighted to hear him read the very same passage I so loved. That description completely changed my perception of how I perceived the beginning of a perfect day, rise before the sun, make a cup of tea, light a candle or in the colder months, a fire. Sit quietly, pray, write, breathe and go gently, softly into the day. The way I choose to begin my day flavors the way I live that day. The way I begin my year, flavors the way I live that year. It’s not very different, a dark morning opening into light of day or a dark month opening into a new year.
If we begin something, a day, a year, a job, a marriage, a project with an sense of excitement and joyous expectation does that make a difference in how that something proceeds? In the book The Joy of Appreciative Living, Jacqueline Kelm recommends 3 steps that can be implemented in order to increase one’s sense of joy. The first step is to write daily three gratitudes. The second step is to think of one thing every day that will bring you joy and the third step is to take fifteen minutes once a week to imagine your ideal life. The premise of the book is that if you do these exercises for 28 days, your level of happiness will increase and even if you then stop doing the exercises, your will maintain a higher level of joy than when you began the process. After beginning the program I was driving home one evening right at sunset and the sky was breathtakingly beautiful. “One gratitude to write tomorrow.” I told myself. I would have appreciated it even if I wasn’t in the process of increasing my joy but I wouldn’t have made a mental note to remember it. It was the difference between capturing the image and just noticing it in passing. I realized I had begun to look for moments of joy to record and that simple process was making me happier.
Shaun Achor has a short TED video on You Tube about using this process for your job. It was originally sent to a dear special-education teacher friend of mine by her principal. She told me looking for three gratitudes each day had the same effect on her as it did on me. Certainly, looking for joy has got to be a better approach to improving the quality of one’s life the looking for sadness or worse. One need not only look forward for joy. You get to choose what you focus on in the past. As part of a healing process my chiropractor, Joanne Noel in Chapel Hill, NC had me “reframe” an upsetting memory which she felt had twisted my body in ways I knew hurt but didn’t fully recognize. “Why choose to focus on a painful memory.” she said, “Let’s change it or better yet, delete it like an unwanted, useless email.”
Then there’s step two and three from The Joy of Appreciative Living. For many years I’ve kept a small Hallmark Calendar in my daily journal. Each morning i record one thing that brought me joy and one thing that I did to help another. This concept of planning it was new to me. it reminded me of being on a successful diet. I’ve read where one step is to write down everything you eat but an even more powerful step is to plan what you’re going to eat. With step two of The Joy of Appreciative Living I plan what I’m going to feed my spirit.
I love my life, however, I still have dreams and once again I am reminded of God’s bounty and of the truth that I cannot fathom the riches that can be found once we connect to the Divine. Why wouldn’t I institute a practice that might raise my level of joy? When I feel positive, joyful and happy I carry those emotions out into the world and while some may find them to be disarming, most seem to need and appreciate a smile, a warm greeting and even sometimes, a hug. My ideal life always includes optimal health and I work hard to maintain that state. I eat as well as I know how, I exercise daily, I take my vitamins and I don’t smoke or abuse my body. I’m invested in “dying healthy.” But, good health and an ideal life require more than care for the body, the body will cease to exist one day no matter how well I care for it. I need to focus on the spirit too. As in past “planning” January months I carefully considered what my ideal life would include. I didn’t take on any resolutions but carefully crafted ten intentions.
Accept and Give Love Freely
Hug Whenever Possible
Recognize the Shadows
Smile Early, Laugh Daily
Be Grateful, Always and for All Things
I share them here with you so that you too may take the time to write down your ideal life. So you too may craft some intentions that will bring more light and joy into your life and into the lives of all those you love and the lives of all those your life touches.